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Many of these earlier deaths had been caused by yellow fever and malaria; diseases that the medical community at the time believed were caused by bad air and dirty conditions.

By the early 20th century, however, medical experts better understood the role of mosquitoes as carriers for these diseases, allowing them to significantly reduce the number of deaths among canal workers, thanks to a host of sanitation measures that included draining areas with standing water, removing possible insect breeding grounds and installing window screens in buildings.

De Lesseps intended to build the canal at sea level, without locks, like the Suez Canal, but the excavation process proved far more difficult than anticipated.

Gustave Eiffel, who designed the famous tower in Paris that bears his name, was then hired to create locks for the canal; however, the De Lesseps-led company went bankrupt in 1889.

In 1881, a French company headed by Ferdinand de Lesseps, a former diplomat who developed Egypt’s Suez Canal, began digging a canal across Panama.

The project was plagued by poor planning, engineering problems and tropical diseases that killed thousands of workers.

In 1534, after no such passage across the isthmus had been found, Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor, ordered a survey to determine if one could be built, but the surveyors eventually decided that construction of a ship canal was impossible.

A century after the United States completed the Panama Canal, a navigable link across Nicaragua remains a possibility: In 2013, a Chinese company announced it had struck a billion deal with the Nicaraguan government for the rights to construct such a waterway.While moving through it, a system of locks raises each ship 85 feet above sea level.Ship captains aren’t allowed to transit the canal on their own; instead, a specially trained canal pilot takes navigational control of each vessel to guide it through the waterway.Tolls for the largest ships can run about 0,000.The smallest toll ever paid was 36 cents, plunked down in 1928 by American adventurer Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal.

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